FEMA's Reverse Learning Curve

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Today's New York Times reports:

Federal officials issued unexpectedly lenient guidelines on Wednesday for rebuilding the flood-damaged homes of New Orleans, potentially allowing tens of thousands of homeowners to return to their neighborhoods at costs far less than they had feared.

How very lenient of them! Property owners were waiting for a rule on how many feet above ground they had to build to qualify for federal flood insurance. The magic number is three, and why not? All good things come in it. Alas, good things do not typically come from FEMA. A former director of the federal flood insurance program tells The Times:

"What's that three feet going to do? Instead of coming up with real science, they're making it up. Which means that people are going to be at risk, they're going to die again, and taxpayers are subsidizing unwise construction with very cheap insurance."

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  1. The magic number is three, and why not? All good things come in it.

    That what you get when you ask for public policy advice from the Tootsie pop owl.

  2. Okay fine that is their property and if they want to rebuild there, it is their business. The problem is that their property is below sea level in a hurricane prone area. If they get to rebuild, I should get the assurance that not one dime of my tax money is spent evacuating their dumb asses when the next hurricane does come or doing anything to help them rebuild. These people want to be free to do what they want with their property, fine, just stop sucking off the government tit in exchange.

  3. Well, at least the feds are being a bit more proactive with the rebuilding than the city has:

    http://nationalreview.com/comment/wexler200604050642.asp

    My buddy has been at odds with the good folks in city government in NOLA for sometimes now

  4. John Paul Jones,

    My friends in Louisianna tell me that a lot of people in state government are doing everything they can to keep NO from being rebuilt as it was. The rest of the state was white and republican and New Orleans was black and democrat. As a result, the politicians from the rest of the state are not in too big of a hurry to rebuild the other side’s voter base. Pretty nasty reasoning if you ask me. On the other hand, I don’t believe that the areas below sea level ought to be rebuilt for safety reasons, so they may get the right result for the wrong reasons.

  5. The idea of the city being rebuilt is entirely up for debate. It is a major port, so people do need to be there, but I think trying to make it “the way it used to be” is a mistake. I do think that the NOLA city council should be a bit more supportive of all residents who have returned are trying to rebuild in their own way.

  6. Why can’t they just lower the sea?

  7. I think the world’s foremost telediagnostician should get out there on the senate floor and introduce a bill making it illegal for tha sea to immigrate into the US.

  8. I think the world’s foremost telediagnostician should get out there on the senate floor and introduce a bill making it illegal for the sea to immigrate into the US. With hefty fines and criminal penalties.

  9. Three shall be the number of feet of the raising above ground, and the number of feet of raising above ground shall be three.

  10. I suggest they build a sea wall to keep the Mexicans I mean the water out.

  11. Why is the government offering flood insurance? Because the proffesionals in the insurance industry won’t covers floods except at “prohibitive” rates that make it not worth it to insure.

    So we have the government in effect saying either:
    1) Those insurance professionals are a bunch of morons who couldn’t get a job in government if their lives depended on it.
    or
    2) We will pay you to do something mindbogglingly stupid, namely build a house/apartment building/ business in a place that doesn’t make sense financially except for the rich who don’t care about money.

    By the way, three feet does what exactly? Saves the house from a puddle? Need I remind people that entire houses were submerged in NOLA during Katrina? Is saving the top three feet of a house rational in any way whatsoever?

    This is what San Francisco government employess think we should be honored to pay taxes for? Excuse me while I barf.

  12. That’s what you get when you ask for public policy advice from the Tootsie pop owl.

    ROTFL! Good one, David.

    LMAO.

  13. Thanks, smacky. I’m glad that someone got it.

    Semi-serious question, is it possible to engineer asthetically pleasing reasonably-sized homes that could rise with the flood waters. If it is, why not require homes in such low lying areas to be built as “houseboats” in order to qualify for flood insurance?

  14. It would be hard to hook up utilities to such houses.

    The other problem is that in most floods you not only have the problem of rising water but also moving water. You would get houses floating around and colliding with each other.

  15. The magic number is three, and why not? All good things come in it.

    Oh great, now I’m gonna have that De La Soul song stuck in my head all day.

  16. By the way, three feet does what exactly? Saves the house from a puddle? Need I remind people that entire houses were submerged in NOLA during Katrina? Is saving the top three feet of a house rational in any way whatsoever?

    Not all the houses were totally submerged; I think the theory is that the ones hit by the ten-foot wall of water are gone anyway, but you can prevent the extensive low-level damage to foundations and sheetrock if you build the house a few feet up. Actually, one of the houses I grew up in was raised three or four feet of the ground, for precisely that reason. Not that I mean to make excuses for the New Orleans government, which is composed almost entirely of corrupt and incompetent fuckwaffles, but this isn’t quite as insane as it sounds.

    John: There’s a lot, as JPJ says, going into the question of “rebuilding the city as it was.” I don’t want the city rebuilt as it was, because it was largely a giant slum run by the abovementioned fuckwaffles. I was hoping that the mass emigration of the slum population might break up the New Orleans slums, while dispersing them enough that they didn’t just recreate the slums elsewhere; doesn’t look like that quite panned out. On the other hand, I’m a bit concerned about the attempts by the black political leadership of New Orleans to make sure that everyone living in Houston still gets to vote in the New Orleans elections. That makes perfect sense for the people who plan to come back, but as I understand it, Nagin wants the people who have settled down in Houston to vote in New Orleans elections.

    I’ve said it on here before and I’ll say it again, New Orleans is one of the few places in the country left were we have persistent and open racial politics; the schoolboard always split, with the three blacks voting one way, the three whites the other, and the hispanic casting the deciding vote. Add to this the fact that we’re trying to rebuild in as centralized and top-down a manner as possible-my mother is on a Citizens’ Planning Committee, which will draw up plans for how our subdivision intends to rebuild, and then submit them to the Mayor’s Committee to Rebuild New Orleans, which will take all the submitted plans and draw up a master plan for how the city should get rebuilt. Stack on this the typical incompetence-e.g. the city budget has no money allocated for standby pump workers, so if a flood happens between 5 PM and 9 AM, we just have to wait until morning to start pumping the water away-and I despair. I really do.

  17. Jadagul,

    What Nagin is doing with busing voters in is straight out of some afro-marxist hell hole. The sad fact is that I love New Orleans. That said, I have been there enough times to see the incredible poverty and racial politics that went on there. The city was really an embarassment.

  18. May I recommend this as a preferred building technique?

  19. I think they actually do a topography study. …and then they do a hydrology study to find the size of a flood given a one hundred year flood event and a five hundred year flood event. They figure out the elevation of that outer ring of the flood, and then they say you have to be so many feet above that elevation. …and I don’t think they’re talkin’ about puttin’ houses on stilts. They’re talking about raising the level of the land typically via importing soil (post recompaction) beyond that elevation.

    It’s incredibly expensive to import clean fill dirt and have it recompacted, even if it’s just a few acres. If they’re talkin’ about doing city blocks? You might think this good for New Orleans because the bill’s being footed by the taxpayers, but do you have any idea what this would mean to people whose homes or businesses would be in a floodplain assuming that whatever channel or levee burst? Huge swathes of American industry would no longer be insurable–by private insurance–and people could no longer get a mortgage on such a piece of property, residential or commercial.

    No one will give you insurance–you can’t get a certificate of occupancy on new buildings or rebuilt buildings either. You probably can’t get a building permit. …unless you shell out a ton of cash and raise your land beyond where a flood would be without anything encumbering the flow of water. …all because the federal government, via FEMA, decided to ignore the flood channel they dug beside your housing development when they drew up the FIRM? …and libertarians think that’s a good thing?

    Property owners were waiting for a rule on how many feet above ground they had to build to qualify for federal flood insurance.

    I think what they’re talking about is a that you can’t get flood insurance, even from a private insurance company, unless you’re clear on what’s called a Flood Insurance Rate Map. …which are created and altered by FEMA and FEMA’s consultants. Once again, it’s the FIRMs that prevent private insurers from writing policies for buildings in bad areas and deter people from building in these areas. These areas that they own.

    I don’t understand why libertarians would want the government to prevent more people from privately insuring their land, and, thereby, prevent people from building on their own land. …but I don’t think it was clear to most of you that this effects private insurance and mortgages either.

  20. …are you out there joe? What would be the effect in your town if you had to reprocess a LOMR through FEMA and have all the areas that would be effected by the 100-year floodplain, assuming all flood control infrastructure failed, suddenly declared uninsurable?

    I say New Orleans should build the infrastructure they need to withstand whatever storms may come–let’s not make it impossible for private parties to build on their own land with their own money.

  21. I find myself becoming more indignant over time.

    …How dare the federal government tell the private citizens of New Orleans that they have to raise the elevation of their own property by three feet!? …and libertarians are telling these people it should be ten?

    Disclaimer: The previous statement was by no means intended as an endorsement of taxpayer funding for private insurance. Thank you.

  22. The way I understand it is that the three feet handles the hundred year event as long as the levees hold ie rainfall that is trapped in the bowl and cannot be pumped out fast enough.

    I understand that many of the older houses in NO are frme houses on low piers. Such house can just be jacked up and blocked up and the utilities reconnected. Those built since WWII esp though tend to be on concrete slabs. These present additional problems and I understand some owners have concluded that it is cheaper to demolish and rebuild.

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